Skip to main content

Men, step up on family planning

By Babatunde Osotimehin, Special to CNN
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Sat May 11, 2013
A woman holds her baby in a village in southern Niger, where progress in women's access to family planning is being made.
A woman holds her baby in a village in southern Niger, where progress in women's access to family planning is being made.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Babatunde Osotimehin: Women need to be able to control their own reproductive health
  • Osotimehin: Women in developing world need access to family planning programs
  • He says we should recruit men and boys as full partners in this battle for women
  • Osotimehin: Schools for Husbands in Niger has made progress in getting men involved

Editor's note: Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is an under-secretary-general and executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, an agency that champions reproductive rights of women.

(CNN) -- Our failure to give women in certain parts of the world the ability to decide the timing and number of their children is deeply damaging -- not just for the women themselves but for societies, too. Lifting the obstacles is not something that can be tackled half-heartedly.

Modern family planning programs were introduced widely in the developed world decades ago. Providing voluntary family planning is one of the most cost-effective ways of improving health. Yet, over 200 million women, overwhelmingly in the poorest countries, who want access to modern family planning still can't get this help.

Babatunde Osotimehin
Babatunde Osotimehin

The results are all too clear. Girls who are still children themselves become mothers. The survival and health of mothers and babies are put at peril. Complications around giving birth remain the greatest killer of teenage girls in the developing world.

It is not just young girls who suffer from the lack of control over their own reproductive health. Enabling women to space pregnancies out by three to five years could almost halve infant death in the poorest countries, one study found.

The failure to give women access to reliable family planning increases poverty and reduces the number of girls in school and in the workforce.

Lack of money to buy contraceptives, underfunding of family planning programs and lack of trained medical personnel are all major reasons that make life harder for women. There is no doubt, too, that cultural and family pressures -- often resting on a lack of women's equality within their homes and communities -- play a role. We have to lift these barriers wherever we find them.

Opinion: Want to help poor moms? Provide them with diapers

The solar suitcase
Midwife stands up for African mothers
Ireland amends abortion law

Women have traditionally led the fight to improve access to family planning and the provision and quality of maternal health services. But the more we are able to recruit men and boys as full partners in this battle, the more progress we can make.

While men, accidentally or deliberately, can be a barrier to these ambitions, I have also seen how they can be a major part of the solution in the unlikeliest societies.

There are few countries with a poorer record on maternal and infant health than Niger, one of the least-developed nations. A traditional society where men wield most of the power, this landlocked nation in West Africa ranks at the bottom of the UNDP Gender Equality Index. Few women use contraceptives. Almost all births are at home. It helps explain why Niger has the highest fertility rate and one of the highest infant death rates in the world.

Opinion: Why there are more walk-away moms

But a pioneering initiative launched in 2007, Schools for Husbands, is slowly changing this picture. These schools, which have the backing of the civil authorities, traditional and religious leaders, as well as UNFPA support, bring together husbands who believe their wives should play a much more equitable role in their families and communities.

They meet regularly to discuss and deliver solutions to Niger's challenges around maternal and reproductive health. This can include building a house for a new community midwife or, after talking to local women's groups, new toilet facilities at a maternity clinic. Perhaps even more importantly, they take the message out to new communities about the importance of family planning and proper maternal health care.

The results where the schools have been established have been impressive. Use of family planning services has tripled. The number of child births attended by skilled personnel doubled.

More than 170 schools are in Niger now. The initiative is being extended to new regions in the country and outside its borders. It shows that we can make real progress in the most challenging of environments when men build partnerships across the gender divide.

As we celebrate Mother's Day, I challenge all men to think about the commitments they can make to build up our societies by lifting up women, our very own mothers, wives and daughters.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Babatunde Osotimehin.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:28 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 2:27 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT